Ciena

(CIEN) - Get Report

reported first-quarter earnings Thursday that beat Wall Street's slightly raised estimates by 3 cents and said it expects 2001 revenue to grow even faster than previously stated.

For its first quarter ended Jan. 31, Ciena earned $54 million, or 18 cents a share, excluding special charges, up from $9.1 million, or 3 cents a share, in the year-ago period. Twenty-one analysts surveyed by

First Call/Thomson Financial

expected the optical networking company, based in Linthicum, Md., to report earnings of 15 cents a share.

Ciena reported first-quarter revenue of $352 million, up 130% over the $152.2 million reported in the same period last year.

"We now believe we will be able to achieve 2001 revenue growth of between 95% to 105% over last year, which translates into a revenue range of between $1.67 billion to $1.76 billion for fiscal year 2001."

To date, Ciena has been the only major optical networking gear maker that has not felt a slackening in demand as the nation's economy sags and as customers get stingy with what little remains of their cash.

Back in December, seeing no end in sight for continued growth, Ciena had raised its 2001 revenue growth forecast to 75% to 85%, an increase of 15 to 20 percentage points over analysts' previous expectations

Using the December guidance, analyst projected earnings to be 66 cents for the fiscal year, according to First Call/Thomson Financial. Analysts' consensus revenue expectations were for $315 million for the fiscal first quarter, and $1.53 billion for the year.

Ciena makes optical networking equipment that is used by phone and Internet service providers to transport and direct traffic over fiber cables. The optical switching gear in particular, requires a great deal of software, which plays a central role in these networks, almost like an operating system in a computer.

Ciena is a challenger to the top three optical gear makers

Nortel

(NT)

,

Lucent

(LU)

and

Alcatel

(ALA)

, and lists about 40 customers at this point.

Last week, Ciena

won a $200 million contract with

McLeodUSA

(MCLD)

, making McLeod the 37th announced customer, and the 10th to buy Ciena's

CoreDirector

optical switch.

Ciena said as recently as Tuesday at the Robertson Stephens Tech 2001 conference that it saw

no decrease in demand from equipment buyers. Feeling particularly confident, Ciena's head of switching said she sees very little competition from rivals

Cisco

(CSCO) - Get Report

,

Sycamore

(SCMR)

, and

Tellium

.